Mr Speaker, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is at an ECOFIN council meeting today.
The Government have made huge progress in delivering the infrastructure that the UK needs, establishing the first ever national infrastructure plan, which now shows that more than 2,500 projects have been completed since 2010. West Yorkshire continues to benefit as part of this plan, which includes the M62 smart motorway westward extension—the first new trans-Pennine road capacity since 1971. As part of the city deal, a combined west Yorkshire authority is taking forward a package of investments in transport worth up to £1.6 billion over 15 years.
I very much look forward to the northern powerhouse coming over the Pennines to west Yorkshire. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the new bidders for the Northern Rail and TransPennine Express rail franchises will commit themselves to getting rid of the antiquated Pacer trains that plague commuters in my constituency on their daily commute?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue, which is raised by Members of Parliament and constituents from across the Northern Rail and TransPennine Express franchise areas. I can confirm that in the autumn statement we set out some changes that we would make to those two franchises. The packages for the new franchises will include a substantial package of upgrades, including new services and modern trains in order to phase out the outdated Pacer trains, which have also been raised with us under the Deputy Prime Minister’s Northern Futures programme.
If north Nottinghamshire’s coalfields are to feel the success of HS2, connectivity will be key. Will the Chief Secretary assure the House that once we have pulled together a bid for the Robin Hood extension to the villages of Ollerton and Edwinstowe, capital will be made available?
I am well aware of the importance of this connection to my hon. Friend and to other Members of Parliament in the area. As he will be aware, the east midlands has already benefited from investment of approximately £70 million to improve line speeds on the midland main line up to 125 miles per hour. Further electrification is due to be extended to Nottingham by 2019. A decision on the Robin Hood line is a matter for the local authority, but we would certainly look on the idea favourably.
The importance of infrastructure is surely a sign of the importance of Government investment as a way of growing our economy. Does the Chief Secretary therefore agree that one further way that we could move forward on this is to build at least 200,000 new houses a year to help to build our economy?
I totally agree with the hon. Lady. It is incredibly important to improve the rate of house building. I would set the figure at closer to 300,000 houses a year across the UK, rather than the 200,000 that she mentioned. She will know that in the autumn statement we extended the affordable house building programme for a further two years in order to build 275,000 affordable homes in the next Parliament. We are taking forward the idea of Government commissioning of housing, which would be a radical departure for this country, at Northstowe, and looking at it as a solution for the whole country.
I warmly welcome the infrastructure announcement, but does my right hon. Friend agree that we also need further devolution to allow the much-needed rail link to Leeds Bradford airport and the electrification of the Leeds-Harrogate-York line? Will he meet me and other interested colleagues who represent the area to discuss how we can take this forward?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that devolution, city deals and the growth plans we have put in place for every local enterprise partnership area are an incredibly important part of delivering infrastructure. He refers to two projects that are very important in the city he represents and I would, of course, be delighted to meet him and any other interested colleagues to discuss them.
In case the hon. Gentleman does not remember, he was present in the last Parliament when his party was in government and caused the most severe economic crash that this country had experienced for very many decades. The housing market, of course, gets affected by the economic cycle, which is precisely why this Government have presided over the highest level of affordable house building in this country for 20 years. Under the hon. Gentleman’s party, the number of affordable houses in this country fell by 421,000; under this Government, it has risen by hundreds of thousands.